AMID the hysteria surrounding the totally predictable defeat at Manchester City were dire predictions that the world was going to spin off its axis, statements as fact that relegation was a certainty and frenzied assertions that it was the worst performance by a Boro side EVER.
That over-reaction was par for the course. As it was that the City calamity followed hot on the heels of an equally unfounded upsurge in optimism that the top half suddenly beckoned after workmanlike wins over high-flying utilitarians Everton and lacklustre neighbours Newcastle.
When it comes to wild-eyed fluctuations at the extremes of opinion Boro fans are top of the league. But why? Didn’t everyone expect this season to be a case of two steps forward, one step back with the team wobbling unsteadily around the bottom half like a teenager who has been at the booze cabinet?
Looking back at my own jaundiced pre-season result-by-result predictions I had Boro down for a nightmare start and only just by this stage finally getting to grips with the season. Remember, the Dutch tour had been a disaster, things were frustrating in the transfer market and with the Huth deal stalled over his injury, Distin holding out for 40K and Woodgate yet to appear on the radar, the defence looked a bit of a mess. Many on Teesside shared that bleak outlook and were digging in for the dogfight. I confess I was expecting a grind.
In fact, I had Boro pencilled in to take just two pathetic points from the first five games. What a faint-hearted, lily-livered, half-empty chicken-running defeatist! Yet looking at what I scrawled hastily in realistic resignation back in August, I have the Boro points tally bang on with 11.
Not that my predictions would have troubled the bookies. Far from it, the results are all over the shop. Naturally I had Boro down to get battered at Arsenal (by the traditional 4-0) and at home to revenge seeking Chelsea (3-0) but I thought Boro would beat Sheffield United and Blackburn so those results even themselves out in a weird football algebra.
And I fully expected to lose at Reading – all fired up with 100mph emotional energy and with history beckoning – so that is one right but only pencilled in draws at home to Everton and Newcastle. I had projected a point in a bore-draw at home to Pompey and another at Man City.
Here’s my list:
Reading 2 Boro 1
Boro 0 Chelsea 3
Boro 0 Portsmouth 0
Arsenal 4 Boro 0
Bolton 0 Boro 0
Boro 1 Blackburn 0
Sheff Utd 1 Boro 2
Boro 1 Everton 1
Boro 1 Newcastle 1
Man C 1 Boro 1
Terrible punditry. Apart from the opening day defeat the only result I have called correctly was the 0-0 draw at Bolton so I can’t claim to be either a shrewd soccer statistician, a clairvoyant or even particularly lucky in picking random numbers. But the points tally is correct up to now. To be honest that is no great shakes. Most realistic Boro fans will have calculated it to be around about the same mark, give or take a point. I don’t think we expected too much.
And while there will be kneejerk hysteria and radical readjustments of projected points and position with every result, most will find that their pre-season predictions will hold strong. The consensus back then was that it would be a season of consolidation as rookie boss Southgate found his feet and tried to change the imbedded cautious culture of an unbalanced side that, in the league, had been poor for 18 months. Nothing has changed dramatically since then.
For my part I’ve got Boro down to earn 48 points over the season which should be enough to finish 14th or so. By my reckoning, after we get stuffed by Man U at home early in December Boro will go on a good run of just one defeat in eight and maybe even nudge into the top half – but then poor runs in Jan/Feb and the final straight re-establishes the natural order.
I’ve actually got Boro down to lose at Watford today; well by my calculations they have gone five unbeaten now and they are due to slip up if only to damp down heightened expectations. That I have gone for defeat should cheer those who have spotted a pattern in my predictions so far.